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Full text of "Centralization, its benefits and disadvantages : a prize essay read in the Theatre, Oxford, June 23, 1852"

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JUNE 23, 1852. 



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Definition of Centralization ..... 7 
Principle by which it is to be tested .... 8 
Division of the subject accordingly ; various species 

distinguished 10 

Method of enquiry ....... 14 

I. Effects of Centralization 

A. Administrative ; on a State in its Home Territory, 
as to 

i. National greatness and security . . . ib. 
ii. Peace and order of society . . . .19 
iii. Civil liberty and municipal institutions . 21 
iv. Wealth and material prosperity . . .24 
v. Individual life and character . . .26 

1. Of the administrative officers . . .27 

2. Of the governed (a.) Indirect . . .29 

(j3.) Direct influences . 33 

B. Legislative ; on Colonies and Dependencies . . 35 

1. Effect on the general interests of the Empire ib. 

2. On the particular interests of the Colonies . 36 
Summary of Results, under ' Benefits' and ' Disadvan- 
tages 37 

II. Supplementary Remarks 

Relation of Centralization to Civilization . . .38 
Effects on the developement of Society . . ib. 
. . . on the developement of the Individual . 39 
Connection of Centralization with the power of Public 
Opinion with the principle of the Division of La- 
bour with the law of Social Progress in History . 40 
Necessity and difficulty of the question . . .42 
Centralization a tendency of the human mind Con- 
clusion ........ 43 



CENTRALIZATION, in the most precise signification 
which can be assigned to it at the commencement of 
an enquiry, is that method of governing under which 
the functions of government emanate from the supreme 
body alone, in contradistinction to that under which 
they are independently exercised by certain subordi- 
nate agencies. Such at least is the meaning which 
both the analogy of verbal formation and the common 
use of language seem to indicate, in preference to any 
view which would extend its acceptation beyond the 
sphere of Political Philosophy. But so wide is its 
etymological sense, and so various are the applications 
of which, even within these limits, the word is sus- 
ceptible, that the above cannot be offered as anything 
more than a provisional definition, subject to those 
specifications which farther consideration may sug- 
gest. Yet, notwithstanding this vagueness, we may 
expect in any word which passes into the currency of 
public opinion, amid much alloy, some substantial 

8 Principle by which Centralization 

truth. And Centralization, with its usual correlatives, 
so far from being an exception to this rule, expresses, 
plainly if not accurately, the designed or unconscious 
tendency of most polities, either to concentrate State 
government and management in the hands of a few, 
or to leave them as much as possible to the control of 
the governed. 

In this, as in every instance where the merits of a 
system are to be discussed, some standard is required 
by which to estimate them. We cannot arbitrarily 
select from the consequences of an institution those 
which, from their immediate application to ourselves 
or to the more obvious features of society, strike us 
as beneficial or the reverse, or without much examina- 
tion classify them under so simple a division as that of 
Good and Evil. We require, in the first place, to ascend 
to principles, and justify our praise or our censure by 
some test more universal and unimpeachable than that of 
individual, or even national experience. And secondly, 
care must be taken, in searching for the guidance of 
more trustworthy maxims than expediency can afford, 
not to lose sight of that expediency which the science 
of Politics, practical above every other, is forced to 
take into account, nor to apply to the Protean pheno- 
mena of human affairs, the Procrustean principles of 
an ideal legislation. " I cannot," says Burke *, " stand 
forward, and give praise or blame to anything which 
relates to human actions and human concerns, on a 
simple view of the object, as it stands stripped of every 

Fr. Rev., p. 10. 

is to be tested. 9 

relation, in all the nakedness and solitude of meta- 
physical abstraction. Circumstances give in reality to 
every political principle its distinguishing colour and 
discriminating effect. The circumstances are what 
render every civil or political scheme beneficial or 
noxious to mankind/ 3 

As Centralization expresses some relation between 
the rulers and the ruled, the two parties who consti- 
tute a social community, the application of this rela- 
tion to principles and circumstances may best be 
judged, by first briefly stating what the idea of a 
social community implies as its ends and objects. 
For no form of government can be preferred to any 
other, except as it furthers the ends of Government 
itself ; and it can only be called meritorious or objec- 
tionable so far as it promotes or retards that kind of 
existence which Reason and Experience have agreed 
in determining as the best b . If then, we ask what 
is the purpose of a State, and next attempt to shew 
how Centralization assists or impedes the attainment 
of it, we may afterwards more successfully proceed to 
distinguish the benefits and disadvantages which it is 
the aim of this Essay to discover. 

Society, originated by necessity to ensure the exist- 
ence of its members, and continued by choice to pro- 
mote their welfare, implies by this distinction, that 
some of its objects are indispensable, others only 
desirable. Under the first head range the protection 

b Ilept TToKiTfias dpiff-njs rov peXXovra noir)<Ta<r()ai. {rjTrjaiv dvd 
8iopi'<racr$ai nputrov TIS uiperaiTaTos Bios. Arist. Pol. VII. i. 1. 

10 Division of the subject accordingly. 

of life and the protection of property : under the 
second, the other elements of the progressive social 
condition, in the order of their natural developement ; 
the abolition of anarchy, the confirmation of parti- 
cular rights and duties, the promotion of material 
prosperity, and lastly, the education, in the widest 
sense of the term, of the individual man. From this 
series seem naturally to result certain elements, found 
in a greater or less degree in every long-established 
community, and forming the points by its effects on 
which any social system may be most justly estimated. 
Following out then this principle, there will come 
before us the influences which Centralization may be 
expected, or is found, to exert, on National security and 
greatness, on the Peace and Order of society, on 
Civil Liberty and municipal institutions, on Wealth 
and material prosperity, and finally, on Individual 
life and character : and we shall then be enabled 
most conveniently to gather up into one view the 
good or bad results which flow from these modes of 
operation, and to consider it under any other lights 
which the discussion may suggest. 

Before, however, proceeding actually to estimate 
these effects, it is necessary to notice the ambiguities 
of which the word Centralization is susceptible, aris- 
ing from its application to the different functions of 
government. " Government" being " a contrivance 
of human wisdom to provide for human wants c ," its 
powers are exerted in supplying those wants, as they 

c Burke. 

Various species distinguished. 11 

have been above enumerated, by the Legislative, 
Judicial, and Administrative functions which every 
community, to whatever extent, discharges. Now 
the word Centralization has been applied not only to 
a certain state of these powers of government, but 
also to the authority or power of the ruling body 
itself from which these emanate : so that in this sense 
there might be a Centralized government, as well as 
Legislative, Judicial, and Administrative Centraliza- 
tion. It does not however seem desirable (except as 
regards one point 4 , hereafter to be noticed) to give 
the word so wide a meaning, a meaning moreover 
which in most of the above instances is capable of 
being expressed quite as well by other words. There 
is in fact a wide difference between the first three, 
and the last of these kinds. Judicial Centralization 
can mean nothing more than the use of the same 
forms of Judicial procedure throughout a kingdom : 
and Legislative, the fact of all the parts of a territory 
being governed by the same laws. And as to what 
has been termed e " Centralization of government," 
though this is not a case of the same laws or forms 
obtaining throughout a kingdom, it is something even 
simpler, viz., the unity of the realm itself, whether as 
opposed to Feudalism or imperfect Federalism. In 
fact every State, to deserve the name, must have a 
centre of some sort which gives it unity : there must 

d That of Legislation, as applied to Colonies. See p. 35. 
e By M. Guizot and others. See his Origines du Gouvernement Re- 
presentatif, Leyon III. ad fin. ; also his Civilization, passim. 

12 The enquiry chiefly restricted 

be a supreme power or at least authority, the right of 
which the other parts acknowledge. This then is 
simply a necessity of a State, and is not anything of 
which the merits can be called in question. It is, in 
fact, identical with that which is generally called by 
the name of nationality. 

Our estimate of the benefits or disadvantages of 
Legislative and of Judicial Centralization can only 
have place in reference to an empire not geographi- 
cally united, and not to one of a compact nature, as 
in this latter the expediency of uniform laws and uni- 
form procedure does not seem to admit of doubt. 
Administrative Centralization, however, stands on a 
widely different footing. For the question here is 
not whether the whole nation shall act according to 
fixed rules of conduct, but whether its members, in 
those local matters f of deliberation respecting which 
no fixed rule can be given, shall use their own discre- 
tion, or rely on the management of their rulers. For 
the affairs of the nation may be divided into three 

f The objects of municipal administration may perhaps be classified 
as follows : 

agentes ; f preservation of order = Magistrates 

for ( prevention of crime = Police 
PeraonB< *..< support .... = Poor 




tobemade ' ' ' ' =*"&* {o 

Things ' ' ' ' ornament 

' I to be used ..... = Public property 

Cases of these being managed by the State are cases of Administra- 
tive Centralization. 

to Administrative Centralization. 13 

classes, one of which affects it as a whole, a second its 
localities separately, and a third a greater or smaller 
number of those localities in common. An example 
of the first kind would be war or diplomacy : of the 
second, municipal finance and other similar regula- 
tions ; of the third, public works of great magnitude, 
like canals or principal roads, which form a single 
branch of administration, though extending over dif- 
ferent parts. Matters of the first class obviously, of 
the third probably, require to be managed by a single 
power : it is the second and more specially Adminis- 
trative which is the truly debateable province of Cen- 

But the principle on which, if on any, the theory of 
Centralization is based, has a wider and deeper ap- 
plication than to the above-mentioned branch of the 
duties of a government. It is indeed the question 
whether, be it in Legislation or in Administration, the 
people are to take the initiative, or their rulers : in 
other words, whether the function of Governments 
towards their subjects is one of suggestion and di- 
rection, or one merely of correction and ratification. 
If it be true, as Sir James Mackintosh said, that 
"Constitutions are not made, but grow," the question, 
as regards Legislation, may be said to have received its 
final answer in the failure of all systems of law which 
have not ultimately sprung from the wants and habits 
of the people. But, as regards Administration, the 
question is by no means settled, and is probably 
capable of meeting with a different reply according 

14 Method of enquiry . Effects 

to the circumstances and history of every nation by 
whom it can be asked. 

To disentangle from such circumstances the true 
characteristics of Centralization, especially that branch 
of it which it is proposed first to consider, and, divested 
of party feeling, to follow the ramifications of so vast 
a principle into the details of national and social life, 
is, from the nature of the case, no easy task. But our 
conclusions may perhaps acquire a greater degree of 
stability, not merely from a description of the political 
and moral phenomena with which Administrative Cen- 
tralization has at any time coexisted, but an endeavour, 
previously to any such induction, to trace, where prac- 
ticable, the effects which a principle of the kind would, 
according to the usual laws of human nature, be likely 
to produce. It is only by recurring to experience that 
we can be preserved from vagueness in our general 
theories. It is only by the use of general theory 
that we can connect and ratify the suggestions of 

I. We proceed, therefore, to consider first of all 
the effects of Administrative Centralization on the 
State at home, under the heads above enumerated; 
secondly, on its dependencies abroad, where we shall 
be occupied chiefly with Legislative Centralization ; 
and lastly to subjoin some remarks on its effects on 
Civilization in general, including any social or moral 
tendencies with which Centralization may under this 
point of view appear to be connected. 

i. While ' Political Centralization' affords the nucleus 

on National greatness and security. 15 

round which the members of the body politic may 
gather, and Legislation and Judicature the bonds 
which unite them all in the mould of a common cha- 
racter, Administrative Centralization may be expected 
to promote National greatness and security, by con- 
tributing to maintain undisturbed the advantages thus 
acquired. In every matter which may affect its exist- 
ence, a government should be able to act with rapidity 
and precision, and to use the services of subordinates 
who are entirely under its command. And any system 
which unites in a single hand all the threads by which 
the resources of a kingdom can be controlled, pos- 
sesses, over one whose measures require the consent of 
its independent parts, the same advantage which a 
well-disciplined band has over an irregular army. 
Such a government can second its singleness of de- 
sign by every means of action which a complicated 
administration affords : communication with foreign 
nations, the disposal of the revenue and of troops, 
the subsidiary efforts of magistrates and police, the 
assistance derivable from the appropriation of muni- 
cipal property or the means of defence supplied by 
the absolute control of public works, all are in its 
hand : and it may exert a power enormously dispro- 
portioned to its seeming strength by " organizing into 
the unity and rapidity of an individual will the natu- 
ral and artificial forces of a populous nations." And 
if we look to History, the vast resources of men, 
money, and stores, which a system of delegated 

8 Coleridge. 

16 Effects on National 

authority, partially approaching Administrative Cen- 
tralization, enabled Asiatic monarchs to accumulate 
in masses whose effect was only frustrated by their 
heterogeneous composition : the power wielded by the 
generalissimo 11 of the Roman forces, directing through 
his subordinate officers the operations of his most dis- 
tant legions (an office absorbed together with the 
rest by the politic Augustus ;) furnish the most 
striking confirmation, if indeed such is needed, of this 
view. Turning to later times, the constitution of 
Venice 1 at the beginning of the fourteenth century, 
shews the security which a Centralized Administration 
is calculated to afford against internal no less than ex- 
ternal dangers. After the complete suppression of the 
popular element, its aristocracy increased the firmness 
and stability of purpose which naturally characterizes 
that form of government, by the establishment of 
the Council of Ten, which controlled the Legislature, 
strengthened the Executive, absorbed the Judicature, 
and finally, by the most secret and most inquisitorial k 
system of police ever known, kept in check any germ 
of party, whether popular or monarchical, which could 
endanger the existing government. And the powerful 
effects of Administrative Centralization in France can- 
not be better portrayed than in the words of its great 
organizer 1 . "I had established," said Napoleon, "a 

h Merivale, Roman Empire, vol. iii. p. 455. 
'< See Hallam, Middle Ages, i. 322, &c. 

k Except Jesuitism. This too is an example of the vast power which 
Centralization may confer. 
1 Las. Cas. vii. 97 ; quoted by Alison, French Revolution, VI. 381. 

greatness and security. 17 

government, the most compact, carrying on its opera- 
tions with the utmost rapidity, and capable of the most 
nervous efforts, that ever existed on earth. . . . The 
organization of the prefectures, their actions, and re- 
sults, were alike admirable. The same impulse was 
given at the same moment, to more than forty millions 
of men : and by the aid of these centres of local 
activity the movement was as rapid at the extremities 
as at the heart of the empire." 

Such is the power which Administrative Centraliza- 
tion incontestably confers on a government which can 
use it with discretion. But there is another side to 
the picture. A government can, by these means, it is 
true, concentrate its resources on a given point. But 
of what do these resources consist ? They consist, to 
a great extent, of human beings, with wills, passions, 
and affections, the cooperation and due direction of 
which, makes them efficient instruments. But the 
will of the members of a community towards the 
good of that community is nothing else than Patriot- 
ism : and it is on Patriotism, therefore, the only 
motive power besides Religion capable of acting on 
large bodies of men, that the real energy of a govern- 
ment ultimately depends. But this sentiment, though 
it cannot dispense with the assistance which Political 
unity imparts to it, yet is more surely based on local 
and particular interests. Though it must look for 
light and warmth to the central orb of national and 
collective grandeur, yet it must draw its sustaining 
nourishment from the soil on which it grows, and 

18 Effects on National greatness and security. 

twine its roots round custom and familiar association. 
Men feel a stronger attachment to the institutions 
which they protect than to the institutions which they 
venerate. The latter impulse begets the patriotism 
which takes pride in feeling its dependence on a vast 
and complicated system. The former encourages that 
more rational, if less enthusiastic sentiment which is 
engendered by the knowledge of men's own connexion 
with the general welfare. Moreover, by the constant 
exercise of the apparently trifling functions of local 
administration, not only are the greatest possible 
number of individuals involved in the common pros- 
perity of the country, but Patriotism, " a kind of de- 
votion which is strengthened by ritual observance ra ," 
runs in no danger of being forgotten among more in- 
definite, if larger, interests. The uniformity which 
Administrative Centralization produces, so nearly ap- 
proaches mere routine management, that when the 
exigencies of the State demand more speedy and more 
energetic action, there is a difficulty in quitting the 
old paths and obtaining help for measures beyond the 
horizon of individual or local view. A Centralized 
nation may exhibit most perseverance in its under- 
takings. Yet transient intensity exhausts enduring 
strength ; and the concentration of its efforts impairs 
the vitality which is the mainspring of its permanence 
and its progression. Thus while the Centralization of 
Rome perished in the dissolution of her Empire, her 

m De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. i. p. 84. (Eng. 

On the Peace and Order of Society. 19 

Gallic municipalities' 1 survived the general wreck of 
her institutions, and transmitted to modern Europe 
the inheritance of her spirit and her law. And Hun- 
gary , under the disadvantages of isolation from the 
rest of the continent, of a mixture of heterogeneous 
races, and of the frequent hostility of the power to 
which she is annexed, yet still retains, through a sys- 
tem of local self-government, the elements of Patriot- 
ism, of energy, and of national well-being. 

ii. The influences of Centralization on the Peace 
and Order of Society are not less various than those 
just considered. On the one hand, a method of 
government which affects all the elements of the 
social state with the sole exception of the volitions 
of its individual members, must to a great degree, 
affect those also, by exercising a command over the 
instruments which the execution of their purposes 
requires, and by holding in its grasp all the means of 
which insubordination might avail itself. This fact, 
already exemplified from the history of Venice, is ob- 
servable in every State which has adopted those watch- 
ful regulations of internal police which are the natural 
corollary of Administrative Centralization since it is 
plainly necessary that a government should be in- 
formed whether its rules of administration are habi- 
tually observed or infringed. And these regulations, 
however objectionable they may sometimes appear, 

" See Sir James Stephen's Lectures on the Hist, of France. Lec- 
ture V. 

See F. W. Newman, Lectures on Polit. Econ., p. 293. 


20 On the Peace and Order of Society. 

are, it must be remembered, protective as well as 
coercive : and their absence as regards minor details 
of social life is severely felt in some of the countries 
where a Centralized Administration does not prevail p . 
There are also instances where the peace and order of 
society may depend very materially on the degree to 
which government interferes with what are usually 
considered purely private matters. In countries whose 
physical character opposes barriers to the movement 
of large bodies of men, it may be found expedient by 
a wise discretion to restrain large manufacturers from 
that indiscriminate employ ment q of capital which might 
render large bodies of workmen liable to be thrown 
out of employ at once, who would thus be kept toge- 
ther, idle and indigent, from the want of means to 
transport them to a new field of occupation. But 
while Centralization is thus beneficial to the good 
order of society, there are also certain opposite con- 
siderations. Though party spirit may be efficiently 
repressed by a system which allows to none save the 
collective will of the nation any outward expression, 
yet this very discouragement of the usual and overt 
means of such manifestations has a tendency to en- 
courage those secret and forbidden associations', which, 
like certain disorders in the natural body, may em- 
broil or undermine society, if they do not find their 
appropriate vent in the discussion of local interests 

p See De Tocqueville, vol. i. p. 130. 

q See Laing's Observations on Europe, 2nd Series, p. 158, &c. 

' De Tocqueville, i. 84. 

On Civil Liberty and Municipalities. 21 

and the excitement of local feeling. And while the 
multifarious resources which a Centralized Administra- 
tion commands, supply some of the most efficient 
means for the detection and suppression of crime, yet 
where everything is left to the government, the people 
are apt to give less ready assistance, than where every 
member of the community is engaged on the side of 
justice by the feelings of duty and responsibility which 
local self-government implies. And it may be ob- 
served (though this was perhaps rather an abuse than 
a consequence of Centralization) how greatly the gov- 
ernment nomination of municipal officers s in France 
contributed to the exasperation of feeling which cost 
Louis XVI. his crown and his life. 

iii. On the rights enjoyed by men in their private 
and municipal capacity, the effects of a Central Ad- 
ministration may naturally be expected to be most 
distinctly traceable. No one person ever manages 
the affairs of another exactly in the way that person 
would prefer. Nor do those ends at which a govern- 
ment aims for the general interest, always coincide 
with those which the individual pursues for his own 
advantage. And the murmurs which may arise against 
the acts of the supreme power are in some danger of 
being disregarded by its functionaries, as resulting 
(in their eyes) less from enlightened views than from 
ignorance of what is best : so that the course pur- 
sued by the State in its collective capacity, if direct 

5 See Bechard, De V 'Administration Interieure de la France, (Paris. 
1851,) vol. i. p. 66. 

C 2 

22 On Civil Liberty and 

and rapid in its aim, is too often open to the charge 
of unfeelingness in its means : while 

" the path the human being travels, 

That on which blessing comes and goes, doth follow 
The river's course, the valley's playful windings, 
Curves round the corn-field and the hill of vines, 
Honouring the holy bounds of property, 
And thus secure, though late, comes to its end'." 

The superior intelligence of a government, an argu- 
ment sometimes urged in behalf of Centralization, 
directs the affairs of each locality better than the in- 
habitants can direct them, only in those states of 
society when it monopolizes all political capacity. 
When civilization has proceeded to that point with 
which Administrative Centralization is generally con- 
temporary, the ignorance of local bodies does not 
seem so justly presumable. And though municipal 
bodies suffer by the comparison of their immethodical 
proceedings with the precision and perseverance of 
a supreme government, yet that amount of energy 
which they actually display is in danger of being 
weakened, when constant interference makes them 
feel no more than a life-interest in local matters. It 
would certainly be an unwise line of policy in any 
government to give up all control of this nature, 
especially over municipal property which the occa- 
sional perverseness of municipal officers may alienate 
or waste u : but the supineness in pecuniary rnisfor- 

I Coleridge's Translation of Schiller's Piccolomini. 

II See Bechard, i. 122. 

Municipal Institutions. 23 

tunes which a constant reliance on state assistance 
begets, is a greater evil than even immethodical man- 
agement and fickleness of purpose. As there is no 
doubt that no government ought to have it in its 
power to follow out whatever caprices may suggest 
themselves, whether to despotic or democratic tyranny, 
the greatest care should be taken to sustain those 
barriers which local institutions, by invalidating the 
instruments of arbitrary power, oppose to the tide ol 
popular excitement. And Administrative Centraliza- 
tion by employing a corps of functionaries not ac- 
countable to the population whom they govern, in- 
volves those dangers to local liberty which, in Ame- 
rica *, the responsibility of such officers so happily 
avoids. Nor must it be forgotten that the accumula- 
tion of the elements of power at a single centre stores 
up at that centre a magazine of materials which the 
smouldering fires of insurrection, or the stroke of a 
single hand, may kindle for the destruction of free- 
dom. It is not in ancient States alone that the seizure 
of the Acropolis involves the mastery of the Capital. 
The throne of despotic Russia has been ere now 
transferred from one dynasty to another without a 
blow on the part of its subjects : and we have seen 
in our own day how, under the sway of a Centralized 
Administration, the bravest of our neighbours may be 
forced to acquiesce, since powerless to interfere, in the 
subtly prepared and swiftly perpetrated measures, 

* De Tocqueville, ubi supra. 

24 On Wealth and 

which have changed the most popular, to the most 
despotic constitution of Europe. 

iv. The influence of Centralization on Material 
Prosperity, including under that term everything re- 
sulting from trade, commerce, and the mechanical 
arts, is perhaps of more difficult appreciation. The 
wealth of a nation may be the wealth either of the 
government, or of the people ; either those resources 
which the State has at its disposal, or the accumula- 
tions and investments of individual enterprise. As 
regards the former, there does not seem, prior to ex- 
perience, any reason for expecting that a Centralized 
Administration will be distinguished for extravagance, 
unless through insufficient information regarding the 
requirements of particular localities ; requirements 
which those localities themselves, from their better 
knowledge, might be able more judiciously to supply. 
Accordingly we find that in France, where the public 
buildings, even for very subordinate purposes, which 
meet the traveller's eye, are executed on a scale un- 
known to ourselves, the supply, in many cases, in- 
finitely exceeds the demand. " Roads, canals, bridges, 
quays, and public buildings are consequently con- 
structed not in a commensurate proportion in extent 
and expense to the want to be provided for, but on a 
disproportionate scale, and with an excess of mag- 
nificence ridiculously in contrast with the small im- 
portance of the object, and the actual or possible 
wants of the community or locality. This dispropor- 
tion between cost and advantage to the public, is the 

Material Prosperity. 25 

great characteristic of all public works in all States in 
which the people have no voice in the management of 
their own affairs 7 ." And in addition to the amount 
spent on such objects, the salaries necessary to support 
a fully Centralized Administration must form a serious 
item in the national expenditure 2 : a system which 
suffers by comparison with that wherein services ei- 
ther unbought, or rewarded by inconsiderable emolu- 
ments, attract their officers to posts of local honour 
and interest. 

With regard to its effects on the prosperity of the 
governed, it is manifest that in a rude age, when the 
government alone has the command of the few me- 
chanical or scientific appliances which exist, Centrali- 
zation may be highly useful in prosecuting enterprises 
which would otherwise be totally neglected. But the 
case is different in a period of advanced civilization, 
which always places sufficient resources for most pur- 
poses at the disposal of any moderately large number 
of men. If we could think that a system of govern- 
ment supervision would have been likely to prevent a 
catastrophe like that which lately filled with ruin and 
desolation one of the busiest of our manufacturing 
valleys, much might be sacrificed for so inestimable an 
advantage. But there is too much reason to believe 
that amid the multiplicity of official occupations, and 
the numerous directions in which the overtasked ac- 
tivity of government functionaries has to be exerted, 

y Laing, ii. 166. 

7 Bechard, i. p. 12, 13. (Sixty-three millions of francs, in France.) 

26 On Individual 

matters of this description, as is actually the case in 
France", may fall into irretrievable neglect, no less 
than under the superintendence of local administra- 
tion. Indeed municipal bodies, it has been said, 
'do fewer things well, but do more things/ and if 
left to themselves they are especially useful in being 
able to attempt those improvements in the condi- 
tion of the poor, or other experiments which circum- 
stances may suggest, the demand for which is in 
general so tardily responded to by the supreme 
government. The absorption, too, of all public 
undertakings by the government, tends, as was the 
case under Napoleon's administration 15 , to diminish 
the vigour of private enterprise, and to enrich the 
capital at the expense of the departments : while the 
contrary system, by giving wealthy individuals an in- 
terest in distant centres of action, improves the social 
and industrial condition of the provinces, and may 
encourage the latent merit which would be lost among 
the crowds of an overgrown metropolis. 

v. But it is on individual life and character and on 
the general tone of moral and social feeling by which 
these are improved or impaired, that Administrative 
Centralization has the most real, if not the most ob- 
vious, influence. The system to be efficiently worked 

M. Bechard says (i. 15) "Nos landes abandonnees, nos cours cCeau 
transformes sur plusieurs points du territoire en torrents destructeurs . . . 
offrent une affligeant contraste avec 1'etat de culture avancee qu'on 
trouve dans la plupart des autres etats de 1' Europe." 

b See Alison, VI. 401. 

Life and Character. 27 

implies, as we have seen, a large number of function- 
aries" necessarily under the control of the central 
government : and we may therefore consider its effects 
1. on its instruments, i. e. the officers whom it 
employs : 2. on the people who are thus governed. 
1. The two conditions d which ought to be united in 
every officer who is not either to be made a mere 
machine, or on the other hand to be guided alone 
by individual caprice, are those of independence and 
responsibility : the same conditions, in fact, which 
Providence has appointed for the formation of moral 
character in mankind in general. Now the perfection 
of a Centralized Administration must consist, in one 
respect, in its complete command over the officers 
whom it employs : and this end is best attained by 
making them dependent for the tenure of the office, 
and responsible for their conduct in the exercise of it, 
to the supreme Government alone. But the checks 
on misgovernment, supplied in some cases by public 
opinion, in others by independence in the official, are 
under such a state of things completely neutralized. 
The functionaries who presided over German affairs 
from 1807 to 1814, not accountable to those whose 
affairs they managed, and holding office only at the 
pleasure of the foreign invader, " became the willing 

c The number of these under Louis Philippe amounted to 807,030 
(Laing, ii. 185). When M. De Tocqueville wrote, the number depend- 
ing on the king was 138,000 : while in America only 12,000 are re- 
quired, who however do not depend on the president. 

d i. e. not conditions necessary for the performance of his work : only 
those requisite to prevent its having an unfavourable effect on himself. 

28 On Individual 

instruments in the hands of the French of the most 
grievous exactions, contributions, and oppressions, 
which without their assistance and organization could 
not have been carried into effect by the French com- 
missaries 6 ." Evils such as these Norway avoids, by 
giving to each official a tenure of his post for life, and 
thus making him independent of the government : 
Great Britain (in the case of her Indian Empire), by 
giving the East India Company, the party most in- 
terested, the power of recalling a governor-general and 
other officials : and America, by the responsibility to 
public opinion, and resistance to the growth of an 
oligarchy, which is effected by the removal of all 
officials at intervals of four years f . Nor in the latter 
country does it appear that the ignorance of the forms 
of official procedure has that detrimental influence on 
the management of affairs which some suppose it 
likely to induce. The frequent change of function- 
aries may indeed cause mismanagement under a 
Centralized Administration ; but the stronger interest 
in the result which the system of local self-government 
naturally produces, may reasonably be expected to 
compensate for the want of special official training. 
It is found moreover, in addition to the want of moral 
dignity and hold on popular feeling by which bureau- 
cratic government is characterized, that the inde- 
pendence and social well-being of a great portion 
of society is destroyed by the deferred expectations 

' Laing, ii. 191. q. v. as to the following statements. 
1 Ib: 196, and De Tocqueville, ubi supra. 

Life and Character. 29 

and compulsory leisure of those who are educated, as 
is so much the case in Germany and France 8 , with a 
view to this as their ultimate profession. Thus the 
energy of character elicited by the feeling that con- 
tinued exertions are the sole guarantee for future sub- 
sistence, is supplanted by a habit of mind which 
diffuses indeed, from the education demanded in 
all who aspire to such posts, a humanizing influence 
throughout society, but tending, by a contracted routine 
of business and a limited though secure maintenance, 
eventually to extinguish many capacities which might 
otherwise have been exercised in more various and 
useful directions. 

2 a. The effects which this system produces (in- 
directly perhaps, but most surely) on the people in 
general, as distinct from that section which undertakes 
their management, seem, in the first place, to be, a 
diminution of energetic action, even in matters not 
included in the sphere of administration, through 
the encroachments of government on this debateable 
ground. In a state of society imperfectly civilized, 
and possessed of little information, Centralization, as 
it is more urgently required to satisfy wants in- 
adequately met by the deficient state of knowledge, 
so it has its ill effects counteracted by the undisci- 

* For the proof of this as regards France, see the Report on the 
Budget of 1850, quoted by Bechard, i. 13 ; as regards Germany, see 
Laing, ii. 198. The hopes of an official life are a prominent fea- 
ture in many German novels. See J. P. Richter's Quintus Fixlein. 
De Tocquevillo has some good remarks, vol. iv. part 1, on the "venal 
humour" produced by place-hunting. 

30 On Individual 

plined energies and untrained habits of the people : 
but in an advanced state of civilized existence, where 
habit and custom are far more powerful, it depresses 
and impairs both public spirit and private enterprise. 
Thus it was the policy of Trajan h , admirable as 
was his administration in many respects, to diminish, 
through a fear of encouraging faction, that attention to 
public affairs which the local governments of the pro- 
vinces were sometimes disposed to shew : a method of 
government which, by teaching the people to look to 
the imperial power on every occasion, whether for pe- 
cuniary assistance for public works, or for advice con- 
cerning municipal regulations, left them no principle 
of activity in themselves, and promoted a habit of 
helplessness which under less humane and enlightened 
superiors led to much evil and neglect*. And Self- 
respect, which has been thought capable of being 
derived from the actual share which a democratic 
constitution may give every citizen in the supreme 
government, is more surely grounded on the constant 
and responsible discharge of functions by which the 
interests of neighbours and friends are affected and 
involved. Thus in those countries where Liberty is 
rather as it were brought within the reach of the 
people to enjoy than held up at a distance for them 
to venerate, public spirit is promoted, and the forma- 

h See Dr. Arnold's Life of Trajan, Encyclopaedia Metropolitana, 
X. 656. 

1 So De Tocqueville notices that in the southern states of America 
there is more centralization and less public spirit. 

Life and Character. 31 

tion of character assisted by the management of local 
interests. And the stir and commotion which these 
occasion, dangerous as they may appear to foreign 
observers, yet seem to a fairer judgment to quicken 
the pulses and invigorate the blood of society. When 
Liberty comes down among the children of men, the 
waters are indeed troubled ; but it is by the visit of 
an angel. 

Nor is the effect of the local self-government which 
Centralization excludes, less apparent on public mo- 
rality. In matters of this nature which it is possible 
for Law and Police to reach, it may be more reason- 
ably expected that the concern of the chief inhabitants 
for the good order and credit of their locality will 
operate efficiently, than the less interested though 
more numerous functionaries of the State administra- 
tion 15 ; while the tendency of Centralization to go 
more into detail than the nature of things allows, 
may secretly encourage ', though it outwardly prohibits 
those practices, to check which local opinion and ad- 
ministration have always been found so powerful 01 . 
And the companies for the promotion of moral objects 
not within the province of government, so remarkable 
a feature in modern civilization, seem liable to dis- 
couragement from the same cause which, under the 
suspicious rulers of the later Roman empire, re- 

k See Bcchard, i. 192. 

1 M. Bechard farther charges the functionaries in France with cor- 
ruption, (ubi supra.) 

m See F. W. Newman, p. 290. 

32 On Individual Life and 

pressed associations for purposes as innocent and 
more material. 

Administrative Centralization may also indirectly 
affect social character and sentiments through Art 
and Literature : but only, it is true, in a secondary 
and mediate manner. We have already seen how 
the education necessary to qualify individuals for 
office may spread some intellectual light through a 
country. But Centralization by implying a central 
seat of government implies also a metropolis ; and it 
is to a metropolis that all who seek fame or emolu- 
ment by the above pursuits are induced to resort. 
If art is fostered by the cooperative criticism which 
any assemblage of persons in towns can furnish, much 
more must it be improved by the distinguished mem- 
bers of all professions whom a metropolis attracts 
into its circle. Taste may be cultivated by national 
collections. Industry may find its material in national 
libraries. Genius may be stimulated by the rewards 
or gratified by the fame which collected wealth and 
appreciation have power to bestow n . But it must be 
remembered that while one spot is thus enriched by 
the talent of a country, the rest are proportion ably 
impoverished. Metropolitan excellence can only be 
attained at the cost of provincial exhaustion . The 
question, in fact, is, whether a nation shall shine with 

n See De la Centralisation, par Timon (M. de Connenin), passim. 
His contemptuous comparisons of provincial towns with Paris are a 
strong argument against the principle he eulogizes. 

See Lord Cockburn's Life of Jeffrey. 

Character; Literature; Education. 33 

concentrated brilliancy in science, letters, and art, or 
spread a diffused and equable mediocrity over a 
more extended circle. While the former tendency 
(since no Homers wander now) seems more likely to 
elicit those mighty spirits, " full-welling fountain- 
heads of change," who have ever formed some of the 
chiefest sources of a nation's pride, the latter seems 
calculated to humanize a greater number, and afford 
those benefits to the many, which the cares of an 
anxious subsistence too frequently exclude. And the 
same observation may be made as regards the influ- 
ences of Journalism p . The greater number of centres 
of political information and activity which local self- 
government implies, require more numerous news- 
papers, not all however capable of commanding the 
talent lavished on those which represent the opinions 
of a great legislative and administrative focus. 

Unfavourable as is the conclusion to which these 
considerations may seem to point as regards Centrali- 
zation, oui' estimate must be considerably modified by 
remembering that the improved state of civilization 
with which it generally coexists, presents such facili- 
ties of locomotion and transport as may neutralize 
almost all the injurious consequences (if we think 
them injurious) which the sacrifice of the many to the 
few might in a ruder age produce. 

/3. But in addition to the above indirect effects, 
Centralization may also more immediately influence 

v See on this point De Tocqueville, iii. 130, &c. 

34 Education. 

social character and sentiments, by means of Edu- 
cation. Education (or rather Instruction) is either 
general, professional, or Religious. Whether the di- 
rection of these by government is beneficial or the 
reverse, depends on the degree of culture prevailing 
in a country, and on the disposition of persons to 
make use of opportunities. But, since some education 
or other is the only means of raising man much above 
the animals, at least the rudimentary elements should 
be required of all. But this is a different question 
from the one, whether the State should have a mono- 
poly of education : a question which may be answered 
at once in the negative : though the monopoly of 
education is what Centralization naturally leads to. 
" Give me Education for a hundred years," said Leib- 
nitz, " and I will change the world ;" and to a ruler 
who by thus directing the opinions of his subjects, 
moulds them freely to his will, the expression " shep- 
herd of the people," would be not metaphorically, but 
literally applicable. As regards the professional edu- 
cation, towards the adoption of which some European 
governments seem tending, it may be the exercise of 
a wise discretion, so to regulate the number of those 
instructed for particular employments, as to diminish 
the misery which the competition in over-crowded 
trades and professions so fatally engenders among 
ourselves. And Religious Education, which may 
suffer the same fate as Secular under a central- 
ized regime, can only be fitly bestowed under the 
policy of tolerance to all, and encouragement to one, 

Effects of Centralized Legislation on Colonies. 35 

of the modes of teaching, which even then must inde- 
pendently fulfil its function of spiritual culture. 

B. In proceeding to speak of the effects of Cen- 
tralization on a Colonial Empire q , Legislation must 
chiefly be taken into account. This, though it seems 
to do so, does not in reality stand on the ground of 
unity of legislation at home. There is a great dif- 
ference between abolishing the anomalous laws of 
local communities, and disallowing the right of a 
delegated legislative power to distant colonies. For 
these, a Central Administration, where it is possible, 
which is not often the case, is of course most in- 
jurious : and not less hurtful is that phase of it 
which is generally possible, the nomination of local 
officers by the government at home. 

1. To the interests of the empire at large, more 
dangers seem likely to arise from the disaffection 
caused by the hindrances inseparable from Centralized 
Legislation, than from the supposed democratic ten- 
dencies of a fully delegated power. And though, 
doubtless, the inexperience of youthful communities 
may in many cases abuse this trust, yet the reserva- 
tion of a right to annul proceedings of the colonial 
rulers found generally detrimental, would answer every 
purpose at which a Centralizing Legislation aims. The 
Romans solved the problem of fusing conquered States 
into one body by leaving, where compatible with alle- 
giance, institutions and laws to the conquered : nor 

4 On this point much information has been derived from Wakefield, 
Art of Colonization, xxxvith and following Letter. 


36 Effects on Colonies, fyc. 

was it but by an infringement of this necessary prin- 
ciple that America was finally lost to England. 

2. The interests of colonies in particular, as distinct 
from the empire in general, may be affected, a. by 
the nature of the functionaries who administer them 
and these functionaries may be either at home or 
abroad. The former will be liable to the charges of 
ignorance certainly, of neglect probably, as well as of 
becoming incapacitated for legislation, though it is 
their business, by routine habits. The defect of those 
abroad will be, that they are attached to an external 
centre, and therefore detached from a common interest 
with those whom they govern ; just as the English 
clergy before the Reformation, belonging to tlieir 
centralized system, formed radii intersecting the re- 
gality and nationality of England, b. Distance, and 
therefore slow communication with the home govern- 
ment, increases to an almost incredible 1 extent the 
correspondence necessitated by administration ; nul- 
lifies permissions when at length received ; and some- 
times produces fatal results to trade and navigation by 
the hindrance of useful public works 8 . 

Such are some of the effects of Legislative and even 
partial Administrative Centralization, on colonies. If 
a State's duty is, not to devour its own children, but 
rather, Deucalion-like, to turn the bare stones of the 

r In the single year 1846, the Colonial Office of Paris received from 
Algeria no less than 28,000 despatches. Wakefield, p. 251. 

" Borrer, quoted by Wakefield, who mentions the loss of ships for 
want of a light-house which was to have been built in New Zealand. 

Summary of Results. 37 

wilderness into centres of vitality and action, a system 
must be modified, which produces opportunities for 
oppression in the governing, disaffection in the gov- 
erned, and seriously affects the economical welfare of 
distant dependencies. 

It remains now, previous to the supplementary re- 
marks, to sum up, under the two heads required by 
the Essay, the conclusions at which we have arrived. 

The Benefits then, of Centralization are, that it 
assists the greatness and security of a country through 
the close coherence of its parts, and the defensive or 
offensive efficiency of its organization ; that it is fa- 
vourable to the order of society by keeping in check 
dangerous elements or introducing economical regula- 
tions in circumstances where dangerous elements may 
be developed : that it may help municipal liberty by 
assistance and consolidation during the times when 
society most requires them ; that it may increase 
material prosperity, by occasionally performing works 
beyond the means of local bodies ; that it may benefit 
individual character and manners by those humanizing 
influences which the results of collective arts, sciences, 
and branches of literature in a metropolis will gene- 
rally be found to produce. 

The Disadvantages of Centralization are, that it 
dries up the springs of Patriotism in particular lo- 
calities, and while rendering a nation capable of great 
efforts, impairs the powers which may renew them : 
that it fosters conspiracy while repressing faction, and 
loses the assistance of society in the coercion of crime : 

38 Supplementary Remarks Civilization 

that it encroaches on individual and social freedom 
while it stifles the energy of individual and social 
enterprise ; that it injures wealth by extravagance as 
regards public, and neglect as regards private pro- 
perty : and finally, that it encourages in its function- 
aries a spirit of servile dependence, and an unsympa- 
thising temper towards the governed, while in the 
governed it produces that moral attenuation, which, 
like its physical counterpart in other natures, in man 
too marks the commencement of degeneracy and 
decay ; 

" Sponte sua quae se tollunt in luminis eras, 
Infecunda quidem, sed laeta et fortia surgunt ; 

Nunc altse frondes et rami Matris opacant, 
Crescentique adiinunt fetus, uruntque ferentem." 

II. Wider and less definite results, not so suscep- 
tible of particular proof, yet not the less certainly 
connected with the subject, may here perhaps most 
fitly be suggested. Civilization, above all or the co- 
ordinate developement of Society and the Individual, 
will not be uninfluenced by so potent a tendency as 
that which we have been considering. If, as seems 
true, part of the developement of Society results from 
the worthy occupation of the governing part of it, 
any system will be unfavourable to it which wastes 
time, better bestowed on large questions, in the petty 
details of local administration. And, though the con- 
centration of intellect may promote social progress, 
yet moral sympathies require local unions, incapable 

Power of Public Opinion over the Individual. 39 

as they are of adequate growth among the closely 
packed masses which the concentration of intellect, 
as of wealth, implies. And it is by cooperation of 
the higher and middle classes for the benefit of the 
lower in heal institutions of Education or Charity, 
that moral sympathies between all three are most 
likely, if at all, to be developed, and the barrier 
broken down which separates the Two Nations, as 
Plato calls them, of the Rich and the Poor. 

To the developement of the Individual any system 
is injurious which diminishes the number of oppor- 
tunities for the conscientious exercise of his single 
judgment ; just as in Religion an externally imposed 
system of rules to meet all contingencies hinders 
the growth of Conscience by the minute details of 
Casuistry. Local business, even if not successfully 
conducted, enlarges the circle of ideas, and in some 
degree counteracts the narrowing tendencies of merely 
industrial pursuits. Civilization, too, viewed in its 
modern aspect, seems to repeat one of its ancient 
characteristics, the predominance of the State over 
its members, now represented by the hold which 
Public Opinion has over the Individual. For though 
now, destined for Eternity, he is not, as once he was, 
held of inferior dignity to Collective Man : yet he may 
have to bow to a more arbitrary power the opinions, 
feelings, and tastes which a majority will always im- 
pose, if possible with the stringency of law, on the 
minority of society. Eor this is the form which the 
composite monster of which Plato speaks, assumes 

40 The State versus the Individual. 

at the present clay. It might well be, among those 
to whom the Future was a prospect on which 
" shadows, clouds, and darkness " were resting, that 
the indefeasible personality of the citizen might be 
required to yield to the united majesty of the com- 
munity, and that men should conceive then, as they 
have done since, of a power transcending in its final 
cause and formal beauty the petty interests of its 
material constituents, and combining the variety and 
force of the multitude with the unity and coherence 
of the individual. There may be indeed something 
wonderfully attractive to the philosophic Statesman 
in all that such a centralized system involves ; the 
descending hierarchy of officers, the multiplicity of 
functions, and the graduated subordination of parts 
under the single ruler, that sits at the helm of affairs 
and ramifies into the minutest details of administra- 
tion his secret and imperial influence ; 

" totamque, infusa per artus 
Mens agitat molem, et magno se corpore miscet." 

And to the fascinations of such a Political Pantheism 
we might be right to yield, were human forms of po- 
lity not liable to human accidents, and were the prac- 
tical execution of a system always commensurate with 
its ideal perfection. To minds enamoured of system 
for system's sake, to whom simplicity of design and 
symmetry of adaptation are recommendations which 
the actual vices of the machine in action do not always 
outweigh, Centralization may appear as it has ap- 

Centralization in History. 41 

peared to modern France, strikingly characterized as 
she is by these logical predilections the very con- 
summation of political harmony and grandeur. But 
when we consider how the system may work ; and 
when we see, how the ever-progressing principle of 
the Division of Labour, while it views government as 
a mere profession, thus supplying Centralization with 
its theory, tends to carry it into practice by develop- 
ing each man's powers in some one limited channel, 
we recognise the necessity of surrounding individual 
completeness and independence of character with the 
firmest bulwarks ; and, slow to admit a system of an 
opposite tendency, we shall agree with Aristotle, that 
Xtav evovv tflreiv rrjv 7ro\iTiai> ) OVK ecrnv OL^LVOV. 
Centralization, in the still wider sense in which it 
is brought before us by History, appears as the alter- 
nate reconstruction of previously disrupted societies. 
The human race, projected from the formative will of 
its Creator, is first the one family, is then dispersed 
into communities; each of which viewed in its pri- 
mary and ideal character, presents in its subordinate 
yet independent parts, an analogon of man's physical 
constitution, where the functional activity of diversely 
harmonious organs ensures under the superintendence 
of the central nervous energy, the continuance of Life. 
Declining from this their original state, societies are 
disintegrated into anarchy, and recombined into still 
more numerous unities, by the amalgamations of Con- 
quest, of Colonization, of Federation, of Monarchy; 
or present, finally, that narrower and intenser applica- 

42 Necessity and difficulty of the question. 

tion of the principle which is the bane of Administra- 
tive Centralization. It is at this stage that the Poli- 
tician must encounter it : it is at this stage that it 
becomes most formidable. As the Philosopher tries 
to grasp his ' fundamental antitheses,' so the States- 
man must reconcile his; and they are, especially in 
this instance, problems of a more pressing character. 
For while Philosophical doubt, though it may vex the 
heart and weary the brain, seldom conducts to the 
Euripus, the problems of Politics are always pro- 
pounded by a Sphinx, and the prosperity, if not the 
fate of a nation, is in the hand of the (Edipus who 
can answer them. 

To attempt the framing of such solutions : to com- 
bine new wants and old arrangements : to make poli- 
tical unity compatible with local independence: to 
steer between the rebellious prejudices which shatter 
all improvement, and the whirlpool which draws all 
improvement to itself: in a word, to reconcile the 
centripetal and centrifugal forces of society, and imi- 
tate in states the harmony of the universe, this is the 
task of the Statesman and the Legislator, nor does it 
seem that it can be efficiently performed without a 
due sense of the evils of Centralization. 

But if from a sight of these evils we should be led 
unreservedly to condemn it, we must remember 
that its principle, though precluded by the inevitable 
weaknesses of our nature from innocuous developement, 
may yet be one of those tendencies of the human 
mind which Philosophy no less than History acknow- 

Centralization a tendency of the human mind. 43 

ledges, and which point to some state of unseen per- 
fectibility, where the individual will shall be inde- 
pendent of, yet harmonious with, the Supreme, and 
neither absorption on the one hand, nor discordance 
on the other, shall mar the symmetry of their co- 
operation. And if the complexities and shortcomings 
around us seem to remove from mortal ken so glori- 
ous a consummation, yet we, too, may say with Plato S 
'AAA' eV Ovpavw ia-co? TrapaSetyfjia avaKCLrai rw 
(3ov\ofjLi>q) bpav KOL op&vri eavrov 

* Republic, b. ix. ad fin. 



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